It was interesting to hear about the departures of Ohio State president Gordon Gee and Wichita State baseball coach Gene Stephenson yesterday.
Gee, perhaps displaying a smoothness he often showed as an administrator and fundraiser but possessed less and less as a public speaker, announced his “retirement” effective July 1. As you know, he targeted Catholics, Notre Dame and the SEC in recent off-the-cuff remarks that made other university leaders extremely uncomfortable and, honestly, shed a rather bad light on the university and its so-called “remediation plan” because of other vocal gaffes from the bowtied, suspendered leader.
Gee was an able president, and his problem may simply have been that he, well, put greater emphasis on the three groups in question. In all honesty, it sounds like the comments were made in jest, but he had to know there would be blowback just from one of the groups. He just had to know. To go through the triple play of Catholics, Notre Dame and the SEC was daring the hook to find his neck onstage and yank him behind the curtains. And that’s exactly what happened.
When I write “Time to Chop Some Names” about the Washington Redskins’ ongoing name flap, one of the key tenets was the cultural sensitivities have, right or wrong, changed the past 15 years. Statements allowable then aren’t now. I’m not sure whether it’s a good or bad thing in many cases, but it is different and people have to adjust.
The situation is thoroughly different in south central Kansas, where Wichita State has effectively fired the man who built a baseball program from scratch basically because it wasn’t meeting the expectations he set. Gene Stephenson was given the chance to resign or be fired after 36 years at the helm, and he didn’t choose resignation.
Stephenson’s ouster is a jarring statement on the current state of athletics. True, the Shockers weren’t close to their glory days of the late 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. Wichita State made an NCAA regional for the first time in four years, but the grumblings of glory days gone by and not returning any time soon apparently were too much for the athletic department.
In a way, it seems WSU is turning its back on the only person to bring success to the university in a baseball setting. Well, it is. Let’s be frank about it. However, it doesn’t matter if you’re a legend or a hot, can’t-miss prospect. You have to produce. And if you’re a Gene Stephenson, it gets that much harder every year to produce at the level you need to keep your job. Especially when you’re nearing four decades at the same position.
Much like cultural perceptions on what’s allowed and what’s not, performance expectations change over time. It’s up to us to adjust.